After six years people will finally get a voice on whether or not their local provincial representatives deserve to stay in office. It is also distraction from the most pressing issues facing residents on the island, namely the crushing lack of income that all officials have fallen silent on, and which local elected officials are powerless to do anything about.
Yet this may well be a wake-up call for the PPAO, which has not fared well in popularity in recent years with “Acting Chief Executive” Watcharin Patomwatthanapong at the helm. The entire lifeguard crisis unfolded on his watch, with one bureaucratic bungle after another resulting in zero lifeguards on our beaches during the busy heyday of hordes of foreign tourists holidaying on the island.
The problem was the money; Mr Watcharin said the PAPO did not have enough to increase the budget to pay for lifeguards. However, even local Thais started asking what happened to the money made from the 1% room tax collected by the PPAO – that is, 1% of the room rate charged on every room on the island rented out as tourist accommodation, even for one night. The tax was initially launched on the promise that the PPAO would fund the provision of trained, equipped lifeguards on Phuket beaches.
Whoever received that money must be hurting now, and islanders should be grateful that Phuket Governor Norraphat Plodthong in 2018 ordered local municipalities to become responsible for providing lifeguards on beaches in their respective areas when he intervened in what over a year had plunged into a public debacle.
Mr Watcharin has been mostly invisible over the past five years, much like the PPAO he has guided in that time. He inherited the post of “Acting Chief” after his predecessor Paiboon Upatising succumbed to cancer in August 2015, at age 58. Regardless, in that time Mr Watcharin has served as the island’s highest elected official, though today most people might be unaware of that.
To clarify Mr Watcharin’s role, the PPAO is headed entirely by representatives elected by local residents. As Mr Paiboon explained in an exclusive interview with The Phuket News in 2014, its main function is to provide support for projects that are too large for local municipalities to operate by themselves or other projects not overseen directly by Bangkok.
in contrast, the Phuket Provincial Government headed by the Phuket Governor comprises officials entirely selected by Bangkok, including the Vice Governors. The role of the Phuket Provincial Government and the Governor’s Office is to ensure that central policy issued by officials in Bangkok is implemented effectively across the island.
While the election, currently slated for Dec 20, is for only PPAO representatives, in years past elections for local representatives at municipalities (tessabaan) and tambon administrative organisations (OrBorTor) have been held at the same time, mainly as a cost-saving measure. Elections are generally not cheap events to run.
To this, we look forward to any announcements about when these even more local elections will be held, as many eyes are focussed on the frontline power-brokers in the key areas where development has run rampant, and local residents will finally get a say in whether they’ve had enough.